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Piet/Steven Dialogue

Easy, Hard and “the Self” #6

Piet: I'm asking a very short simple question. If you say “your problem is that you believe in money.” I can quibble about whether it is a problem, but I believe that I have money, that I can do something with it, so we can quibble about whether that's my problem, but not about whether I have money. When you say “you are attached to your money,” I know what money is and we can quibble about whether I am attached. If you say “Piet, your problem is a belief in the self,” I don't quibble about the belief, I don't know what the self is. So it's very different, it's a qualitatively different --

Steven: I think I have tried to point out where you’d look for it, and what kind of “belief” it is, and isn’t … but forget that for now, let's just say there is no problem!

Piet: okay.

Steven: And then if you're happy with that, then fine. If you're not happy with that, then somebody would say “do you notice a pervasive wanting or yearning for something? Wanting something that you don't have … ” After all, this started with your mentioning that things must be more difficult than they seemed, because there was something that proved more elusive that it should be.

Piet: well sure …

Steven: so then you would say “yes, I do notice it.”

Piet: yes.

Steven: and then I would say “okay,"—I mean, at this point I wouldn't be telling you what is really true in the strict sense, I'm buying into something that's really motivated by the other person, namely you. This is the way the Madhyamika tradition works, for instance. I'm just accepting for the moment what you are importing, and trying to respond as best I can to that.

So then I would say “okay, so this wanting and dissatisfaction is then the next thing to talk about. So look into that!.” And if you look into that, you may find that it presupposes something that is never actually present, which is this “me” notion. And this presupposition is embodied, not held explicitly like a proposition about how many days there are in a year. It's in our tissue. You cannot find a self, but you can definitely find an embodiment of the assumption of a self! And that is co-dependently connected with this suffering or dissatisfaction or wanting. I'm just saying that you come forward with a sense about life as involving a difficulty, and we just follow that on a level that makes sense to you, and see where it leads.

Piet: well I learned a lot. This is extremely helpful.

Steven: I’m sorry I haven’t been more clear, but anyway, I learned more from this than I could easily describe.

Piet: no, this is extremely useful, because I now realize more than I ever have before, that that was a sort of weak link in the chain of my understanding of certain contemplative teachings. The notion of a self … now it's a lot clearer how to apply that.

{here we discussed writing certain sorts of books that would need detailed discussions of the point raised in this multi-section dialogue.)

Piet: I still have as my ideal to write a second edition {of a certain} book someday.

Steven: that would be great, then I won't have to do it!

Piet: well who knows … what my nature wants me to do? But I wouldn't be surprised. No, this helps a lot, thank you! And … I find it frankly, I find it difficult to sort of be seemingly egocentric and force you to play the game my way, but I'm glad I tried.

Steven: it's an excellent game. Since we’re just starting to have these talks, obviously we need to practice this much more. But for some of these topics, which truly do require a novel kind of seeing rather than just intellectual banter, we may need like three successive days of short chats, just to have a chance.

Piet: I'm sure!

Steven: there is something funny … I mean, limiting, about even one long session where we can't totally get at the point properly. But if we put it down and then come back a couple of times, then I think it becomes more clear. I have found the same to be true in meditation practice.

Piet: sure, this is exactly what I do as the bread-and-butter of my work in physics too.

Steven: certainly this is how teaching in the old-style Ch'an tradition used to work.

Piet: exactly! I can see it!

Steven: it's the same thing. It's just that Ch'an instruction is based on practice as well as dialogue, you couldn't do it with somebody who isn't doing a lot of contemplative practice, because their minds would just run on so much then, they wouldn't be able to really nail anything. But because of your background and on-going daily practice outside of these talks, we can make a good attempt.

Piet: no, this is great, and I'm really happy that we are finding a way to conduct these talks, because I know that for me this is much more efficient than just occasional meetings … even if we do circle around a lot.

Steven: perhaps that’s true for everybody.

Piet: well it's hard to say. I once read somewhere, it must've been in a book, I think by a psychologist … he said that he had two children, two sons, and they were both about eight and ten years old, and they both had to learn to ride a bicycle. And he was really stunned by the completely different ways that they learn to ride a bicycle.

One of them just jumped on the bicycle and fell over, and did it again, and got bruised all over, but just wanted to do it, and with every bruise he got more determined and really went after it, and then finally he learn to ride a bicycle. And he was very happy, and the bruises—well that's just what you had to do to learn to ride a bicycle.

The other son looked at the bicycle and tried to figure out what it could be to ride on it, and was really puzzled about it, and then sort of sat on it, to really move, but got a feel for the bicycle, and then asked his mom or dad to sort of move him on the bicycle but hold him tight, not letting him go, so he could get more of that feeling. And then he sort of sit with that for a while. He did that a number of times, and then suddenly he rode the bicycle!

He never had a bruise, and he never fell, it was a completely different approach. And so the psychologist then said he realized how difficult education is, because … just imagine that there were a state-sponsored program for bicycle riding. How absolutely slightly awful it would be, and maybe half the people would never learn to ride a bicycle, the one half would probably never learn it from the other one.

Anyway, this is my own way of learning things. And it may be different from your way of learning, I'm not sure.

Steven: certainly not in this case. Anyway, while individual approaches must undoubtedly differ, I think everyone should address this particular point, in some way or other … just to learn more about who they really are, and how to be more awake and relaxed!

Piet & Steven, recorded 5/10/05, posted 7/2/06

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